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Published: Monday, 7/16/2007

WITHOUT WARNING: Effects and reform of the WARN Act

National Machinery castoffs turned to Gillmor

Group had ‘no luck’ enlisting congressman in WARN Act reform efforts, ex-worker says

BY JAMES DREW AND STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Former National Machinery worker Tom Kummerer, left, says it took nearly a year to arrange a meeting with Rep. Paul Gillmor, who defended his efforts after the plant closed. Former National Machinery worker Tom Kummerer, left, says it took nearly a year to arrange a meeting with Rep. Paul Gillmor, who defended his efforts after the plant closed.
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TIFFIN, Ohio -- As employees of the old National Machinery Co. learned that the WARN Act would be of little help to them, they went to lawmakers with a simple request: Amend the law to help workers who are laid off without notice in the future.

The first elected official they turned to was U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor, who was raised just a few miles from Tiffin.

Tom Kummerer, a National Machinery employee for nearly 25 years, tried for months to get a meeting with Mr. Gillmor (R., Tiffin) to discuss the WARN Act and what transpired at National Machinery.

"We had no luck when we contacted him," Mr. Kummerer said. "It took me almost a year to get in to see him because he didn't have time, wasn't coming to town, or whatever."

In 2003, Mr. Kummerer was able to schedule a meeting with his congressman. "I brought up the issue of National Machinery . . . and what he was going to try to do to help the employees," Mr. Kummerer said. "He told me he didn't know much of the details of any of that, but that it was kind of a sad situation."

READ MORE: Effects and reform of the WARN Act

But a letter from National Machinery Co.'s management to employees in January, 2001, showed that Mr. Gillmor was more involved than he let on, according to the letter, which The Blade obtained.

"Many people are actively involved in helping arrange new financing," National Machinery President Paul Aley wrote in the letter. "Representative Paul Gillmor and his staff have made important contacts with government representatives . . . The Old Fort Banking Company quickly stepped forward to offer help and continues to be working on our behalf."

Mr. Gillmor sits on the board of directors of Old Fort Bank, which has been operated by his family for generations. A representative from the bank was in attendance when the sale of National Machinery Co.'s assets was consummated in February, 2002.

In an interview with The Blade at his Tiffin office, Mr. Gillmor defended his efforts after National Machinery was shuttered, saying he met with workers and heard their concerns.

"Some people are unhappy if you can't solve all their problems," Mr. Gillmor said. "The money wasn't there. We did everything we could to help them. If some people feel that way, that's unfortunate."

Mr. Kummerer questioned whether Mr. Gillmor was as concerned about the impact of the factory closure on workers as he was about the interests of the business owners and banks involved.

Mr. Kummerer wanted Mr. Gillmor to help put some "teeth" into the WARN Act - "make it so it actually means something."

"I wanted Gillmor to try and help us come up with some help on the WARN Act," Mr. Kummerer said. "At that time, we didn't understand how the WARN Act was written. He was supposed to check into that and get back to us."

In January, 2006, Mr. Kummerer was still waiting for a response from his congressman.

"We are STILL waiting for an answer to our request to make changes to the WARN Act. It has now been almost 2 years since our first meeting and still no answers," Mr. Kummerer wrote Mr. Gillmor in an e-mail. "Are you just not going to address this issue?"

During the interview with The Blade, Mr. Gillmor said reforming the WARN Act wouldn't change the fact that companies will go out of business. "I don't have a magic wand that can take a company that's gone broke and make it unbroke," Mr. Gillmor said.

Mr. Kummerer said workers aren't looking for a cure-all for business closings; they just want fair warning before they will be laid off. If the WARN Act were strengthened, it would give workers time to adjust.

"I'm looking to change some things," Mr. Kummerer said. "I think the big story to me is what is going on out here. How many times does this go on?"

Contact James Drew at: jdrew@theblade.com or 419-351-2004.



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